I made it with my own two little hands. It’s in the oven right now, roasting, so I sadly cannot tell you — yet — whether or not it turned out well. But it’s a Thanksgiving turkey, and it’s in my oven, and I made it, and that’s already a novel thing.
Yes, yes, you’ll be surprised, but I’ve never actually roasted a turkey for Thanksgiving. In fact, I think I may have once, way back in the first days of our marriage, roasted a small turkey for J. and me just on a whim — probably inspired by one of those supermarket points programs that culminates in the gift of a turkey — but if I’m even accurate in that remembrance, that would count as the one, singular, stand-alone gobbler I’ve ever wrangled on my own.
It’s not for lack of desire, certainly. For a foodie like me, someone who just loves to cook and loves to feed her family, Thanksgiving dinner is sort of the Holy Grail of the meal world. I would truly love to host Thanksgiving some year at my own home, or at the very least, to contribute meaningfully to the feast at someone else’s home. But alas, it seems that my dabbling in the Thanksgiving arts is not to be. We spend each Thanksgiving with J.’s family at his parents’ house, and his mother does the lion’s share of the cooking. Oh, sure, I offer — at least, most years, I do — but my culinary olive branches are generally rejected. G. apparently either genuinely enjoys making the meal for everyone, which is her right; or she feels that it’s her job as the matriarch of the family, and she’s been doing it for so long that she can’t envision turning it over to anyone else (J. and I both feel, based on G.’s general indifference to cooking, that this possibility is much more likely. But we don’t dare ask). The first year we were married, I was asked by G. to make a few side dishes that might be served at my family’s table — a very nice gesture on her part. I showed up with two vegetables. They were eaten. Everyone appeared to enjoy them. The next year, G. told me she thought we would have too much food if I brought my dishes again, so would I mind making some appetizers instead?
No problem. J. and I showed up with a couple of appetizers for everyone to pick at. G. made soup and sandwiches. Our appetizers went into the refrigerator and reappeared two days later, for visiting family.
You can see the pattern, I’m sure, without me recounting every holiday of our six-year marriage. This will be the second official year of me bringing nothing at all to contribute to the feast — and the second year in which we will be the only branch of the family that does not provide part of the meal. G., as always, is doing all of the main dishes and sides, but everyone else is contributing either an appetizer or a dessert. Except for us. When I asked if she needed anything (J. tells me I shouldn’t bother, but I can’t help myself — I wasn’t raised to show up empty-handed), she said that the rest of them had things under control.
Of course they do. G., on her own, would have things under control — she’s the most organized person I’ve ever met, and she’d never let something as important as the Thanksgiving dinner go by the wayside in any regard. But sometimes, I think, it would be nice to be asked. I wonder occasionally what I might have done to offend her or make her feel as though I wouldn’t want to be bothered with helping the family celebrate. (J.’s take on this: “You’ll never know the real answer, anyway, so don’t worry about it. Just be glad you don’t have anything to do for a change.”)
Anyway. Families. We’ll have a lovely time, I’m sure. But my desire to cook for, of all days, Thanksgiving, still remains. Which is why, despite the fact that it gave me a momentary touch of anxiety, I’ve been looking forward to making the turkey for the Preschool celebration.
L. and P.’s school does a Thanksgiving feast each year, the day before the actual holiday. Each family signs up to contribute a dish to the potluck lunch; this year’s menu is turkey, stuffing, cornbread, cranberry sauce, peas, and corn. After watching the sign-up sheet for several days, I realized that no one else was probably going to sign up to bring the turkey, and it dawned on me that here, at last, was an opportunity to participate in Thanksgiving as a cook, not a bystander. Luckily, my later realization that a 20+ pound bird would be quite an expensive contribution was unfounded — along came the supermarket rewards program, again, and with just a bit of strategic stocking up on canned items and baking supplies, J. and I brought home our totally free turkey.
I know some of you will be wondering whether or not the bird was organic, pastured, hormone-free, etc. That would probably be the standard I’d adhere to if I were going to serve a turkey to my own family. But I’ll be perfectly frank here, people — for as many kids and staff as I needed to serve with this thing, I didn’t think we had the budget to make such an expensive point about nutrition and food sourcing. At any rate, it will hopefully be delicious — a turkey novice like me can’t afford to get too cocky. I’m on pins and needles for the next four and a half hours while the thing cooks.
I had to ponder seriously how I’d approach this very first bird of mine. Simply seasoned, or with a little creativity? Unstuffed, certainly, for any number of reasons, but with something in the cavity for the duration of the roasting? Brined, or not? If I’d been making the turkey for our family’s Thanksgiving, I’d have brined it; stuffed the cavity with a variety of herbs, fruits, and vegetables; and done something lovely, like a brush of garlic-infused olive oil, for the surface. But for the Preschool, it was different. I ended up compromising. No brine — too much advance planning, frankly, when it was all I could do to get the thing defrosted in time. I put quartered onions, carrots, some fresh sage, and half an orange in the cavity. And for the skin, I borrowed a page out of my Sunday Chicken book and made a softened butter with sage and thyme — after all, what would Thanksgiving be without those familiar flavors?
The only thing that makes me a bit sad about my first turkey is the fact that we won’t be eating it. Sure, the boys will get to have some at their party, but it won’t be the same as sitting down to a meal at our own table and enjoying it together. So now my mind is fixed on the hope of leftovers, and the possibilities that will be mine once the meat is carved from the bones and sent off to school, leaving me with my very own Thanksgiving turkey carcass. If I can’t make Thanksgiving dinner for my family, I can at least love them up with a little leftover magic. Gobble gobble.